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Cyphernomicon 2.4

MFAQ--Most Frequently Asked Questions:

    2.4.1. "How do I get on--and off--the Cypherpunks list?"
           - Send a message to ""
           - Any auto-processed commands?
           - don't send requests to the list as a whole....this will
              mark you as "clueless"
    2.4.2. "Why does the Cypherpunks list sometimes go down, or lose the
            subscription list?"
           - The host machine,, owned by John Gilmore, has had
              the usual problems such machines have: overloading,
              shortages of disk space, software upgrades, etc. Hugh
              Daniel has done an admirable job of keeping it in good
              shape, but problems do occur.
           - Think of it as warning that lists and communication systems
              remain somewhat fragile....a lesson for what is needed to
              make digital money more robust and trustable.
           - There is no paid staff, no hardware budget for
              improvements. The work done is strictly voluntarily.
    2.4.3. "If I've just joined the Cypherpunks list, what should I do?"
           - Read for a while. Things will become clearer, themes will
              emerge, and certain questions will be answered. This is
              good advice for any group or list, and is especially so for
              a list with 500 or more people on it. (We hit 700+ at one
              point, then a couple of list outages knocked the number
              down a bit.)
           - Read the references mentioned here, if you can. The
              sci.crypt FAQ should be read. And purchase Bruce Schneier's
              "Applied Cryptography" the first chance you get.
           - Join in on things that interest you, but don't make a fool
              of yourself. Reputations matter, and you may come to regret
              having come across as a tedious fool in your first weeks on
              the list. (If you're a tedious fool after the first few
              weeks, that may just be your nature, of course.)
           - Avoid ranting and raving on unrelated topics, such as
              abortion (pro or con), guns (pro or con), etc. The  usual
              topics that usually generate a lot of heat and not much
              light. (Yes, most of us have strong views on these and
              other topics, and, yes, we sometimes let our views creep
              into discussions. There's no denying that certain
              resonances exist. I'm just urging caution.)
    2.4.4. "I'm swamped by the list volume; what can I do?"
           - This is a natural reaction. Nobody can follow it all; I
              spend entirely too many hours a day reading the list, and I
              certainly can't follow it all. Pick areas of expertise and
              then follow them and ignore the rest. After all, not seeing
              things on the list can be no worse than not even being
              subscribed to the list!
           - Hit the "delete" key quickly
           - find someone who will digest it for you (Eric Hughes has
              repeatedly said anyone can retransmit the list this way;
              Hal Finney has offered an encrypted list)
           + Better mailers may help. Some people have used mail-to-news
              systems and then read the list as a local newsgroup, with
             - I have Eudora, which supports off-line reading and
                sorting features, but I generally end up reading with an
                online mail program (elm).
           - The mailing list may someday be switched over to a
              newsgroup, a la "alt.cypherpunks." (This may affect some
              people whose sites do not carry alt groups.)
    2.4.5. "It's very easy to get lost in the morass of detail here. Are
            there any ways to track what's *really* important?"
           - First, a lot of the stuff posted in the Usenet newsgroups,
              and on the Cypherpunks list, is peripheral stuff,
              epiphenomenal cruft that will blow away in the first strong
              breeze. Grungy details about PGP shells, about RSA
              encryption speeds, about NSA supercomputers. There's just
              no reason for people to worry about "weak IDEA keys" when
              so many more pressing matters exist. (Let the experts
              worry.) Little of this makes any real difference, just as
              little of the stuff in daily newspapers is memorable or
              deserves to be memorable.
           - Second, "read the sources." Read "1984," "The Shockwave
              Rider," "Atlas Shrugged," "True Names." Read the Chaum
              article on making Big Brother obsolete (October 1985,
              "Communications of the ACM").
           - Third, don't lose sight of the core values: privacy,
              technological solutions over legal solutions, avoiding
              taxation, bypassing laws, etc. (Not everyone will agree
              with all of these points.)
           - Fourth, don't drown in the detail. Pick some areas of
              interest and follow _them_. You may not need to know the
              inner workings of DES or all the switches on PGP to make
              contributions in other areas. (In fact, you surely don't.)
    2.4.6. "Who are the Cypherpunks?"
           - A mix of about 500-700
           + Can find out who by sending message to
              with the message body text "who cypherpunks" (no quotes, of
             - Is this a privacy flaw? Maybe.
           - Lots of students (they have the time, the Internet
              accounts). Lots of computer science/programming folks. Lots
              of libertarians.
           - quote from Wired article, and from "Whole Earth Review"
    2.4.7. "Who runs the Cypherpunks?"
           - Nobody. There's no formal "leadership." No ruler = no head
              = an arch = anarchy. (Look up the etymology of anarchy.)
           - However, the mailing list currently resides on a physical
              machine, and this machine creates some nexus of control,
              much like having a party at someon'e house. The list
              administrator is currently Eric Hughes (and has been since
              the beginning). He is helped by Hugh Daniel, who often does
              maintenance of the, and by John Gilmore, who owns
              the machine and account.
           - In an extreme situation of abuse or neverending ranting,
              these folks could kick someone off the list and block them
              from resubscribing via majordomo. (I presume they could--
              it's never happened.)
           - To emphasize: nobody's ever been kicked off the list, so
              far as I know. Not even Detweiler...he asked to be removed
              (when the list subscribes were done manually).
           - As to who sets policy, there is no policy! No charter, no
              agenda, no action items. Just what people want to work on
              themselves. Which is all that can be expected. (Some people
              get frustrated at this lack of consensus, and they
              sometimes start flaming and ranting about "Cypherpunks
              never do anything," but this lack of consensus is to be
              expected. Nobody's being paid, nobody's got hiring and
              firing authority, so any work that gets done has to be
              voluntary. Some volunteer groups are more organized than we
              are, but there are other factors that make this more
              possible for them than it is for us. C'est la vie.)
           - Those who get heard on the mailing list, or in the physical
              meetings, are those who write articles that people find
              interesting or who say things of note. Sounds fair to me.
    2.4.8. "Why don't the issues that interest me get discussed?"
           - Maybe they already have been--several times. Many newcomers
              are often chagrined to find arcane topics being discussed,
              with little discussion of "the basics."
           - This is hardly surprising....people get over the "basics"
              after a few months and want to move on to more exciting (to
              them) topics. All lists are like this.
           - In any case, after you've read the list for a while--maybe
              several weeks--go ahead and ask away. Making your topic
              fresher may generate more responses than, say, asking
              what's wrong with Clipper. (A truly overworked topic,
    2.4.9. "How did the Cypherpunks group get started?"
   2.4.10. "Where did the name 'Cypherpunks' come from?"
           + Jude Milhon, aka St. Jude, then an editor at "Mondo 2000,"
              was at the earliest meetings...she quipped "You guys are
              just a bunch of cypherpunks." The name was adopted
             - The 'cyberpunk' genre of science fiction often deals with
                issues of cyberspace and computer security ("ice"), so
                the link is natural.  A point of confusion is that
                cyberpunks are popularly thought of as, well, as "punks,"
                while many Cyberpunks are frequently libertarians and
                anarchists of various stripes. In my view, the two are
                not in conflict.
             - Some, however, would prefer a more staid name. The U.K.
                branch calls itself the "U.K. Crypto Privacy
                Association." <check this> However, the advantages of the
                name are clear. For one thing, many people are bored by
                staid names. For another, it gets us noticed by
                journalists and others.
           - We are actually not very "punkish" at all. About as punkish
              as most of our cyberpunk cousins are, which is to say, not
           + the name
             - Crypto Cabal (this before the sci.crypt FAQ folks
                appeared, I think), Crypto Liberation Front, other names
             - not everybody likes the name...such is life
   2.4.11. "Why doesn't the Cypherpunks group have announced goals,
            ideologies, and plans?"
           - The short answer: we're just a mailing list, a loose
              association of folks interested in similar things
           - no budget, no voting, no leadership (except the "leadership
              of the soapbox")
           - How could such a consensus emerge? The usual approach is
              for an elected group (or a group that seized power) to
              write the charter and goals, to push their agenda. Such is
              not the case here.
           - Is this FAQ a de facto statement of goals? Not if I can
              help it, to be honest. Several people before me planned
              some sort of FAQ, and had they completed them, I certainly
              would not have felt they were speaking for me or for the
              group. To be consistent, then, I cannot have others think
              this way about _this_ FAQ!
   2.4.12. "What have the Cypherpunks actually done?"
           - spread of crypto: Cypherpunks have helped
              (PGP)...publicity, an alternative forum to sci.crypt (in
              many ways, better...better S/N ratio, more polite)
           - Wired, Whole Earth Review, NY Times, articles
           - remailers, encrypted remailers
           + The Cypherpunk- and Julf/Kleinpaste-style remailers were
              both written very quickly, in just days
             - Eric Hughes wrote the first Cypherpunks remailer in a
                weekend, and he spent the first day of that weekend
                learning enough Perl to do the job.
             + Karl Kleinpaste wrote the code that eventually turned
                into Julf's remailer (added to since, of course) in a
                similarly short time:
               - "My original anon server, for
                  2 years ago, was written in a few hours one bored
                  afternoon.  It
                  wasn't as featureful as it ended up being, but it was
                  "complete" for
                  its initial goals, and bug-free."
                  [, alt.privacy.anon-server,
             - That other interesting ideas, such as digital cash, have
                not yet really emerged and gained use even after years of
                active discussion, is an interesting contrast to this
                rapid deployment of remailers. (The text-based nature of
                both straight encryption/signing and of remailing is
                semantically simpler to understand and then use than are
                things like digital cash, DC-nets, and other crypto
           - ideas for Perl scripts, mail handlers
           - general discussion, with folks of several political
           - concepts: pools, Information Liberation Front, BlackNet
   2.4.13. "How Can I Learn About Crypto and Cypherpunks Info?"
   2.4.14. "Why is there sometimes disdain for the enthusiasm and
            proposals of newcomers?"
           - None of us is perfect, so we sometimes are impatient with
              newcomers. Also, the comments seen tend to be issues of
              disagreement--as in all lists and newsgroups (agreement is
              so boring).
           - But many newcomers also have failed to do the basic reading
              that many of us did literally _years_ before joining this
              list. Cryptology is a fairly technical subject, and one can
              no more jump in and expect to be taken seriously without
              any preparation than in any other technical field.
           - Finally, many of us have answered the questions of
              newcomers too many times to be enthusiastic about it
              anymore. Familiarity breeds contempt.
           + Newcomers should try to be patient about our impatience.
              Sometimes recasting the question generates interest.
              Freshness matters. Often, making an incisive comment,
              instead of just asking a basic question, can generate
              responses. (Just like in real life.)
             - "Clipper sux!" won't generate much response.
   2.4.15. "Should I join the  Cypherpunks mailing list?"
           - If you are reading this, of course, you are most likely on
              the Cypherpunks list already and this point is moot--you
              may instead be asking if you should_leave_  the List!
           - Only if you are prepared to handle 30-60 messages a day,
              with volumes fluctuating wildly
   2.4.16. "Why isn't the Cypherpunks list encrypted? Don't you believe
            in encryption?"
           - what's the point, for a publically-subscribable list?
           - except to make people jump through hoops, to put a large
              burden on toad (unless everybody was given the same key, so
              that just one encryption could be done...which underscores
              the foolishness)
           + there have been proposals, mainly as a stick to force
              people to start using encryption...and to get the encrypted
              traffic boosted
             - involving delays for those who choose not or can't use
                crypto (students on terminals, foreigners in countries
                which have banned crypto, corporate subscribers....)
   2.4.17. "What does "Cypherpunks write code' mean?"
           - a clarifying statement, not an imperative
           - technology and concrete solutions over bickering and
           - if you don't write code, fine. Not everyone does (in fact,
              probably less than 10% of the list writes serious code, and
              less than 5% writes crypto or security software
   2.4.18. "What does 'Big Brother Inside' Mean?"
           - devised by yours truly (tcmay) at Clipper meeting
           - Matt Thomlinson, Postscript
           - printed by ....
   2.4.19. "I Have a New Idea for a Cipher---Should I Discuss it Here?"
           - Please don't. Ciphers require careful analysis, and should
              be in paper form (that is, presented in a detailed paper,
              with the necessary references to show that due diligence
              was done, the equations, tables, etc. The Net is a poor
           - Also, breaking a randomly presented cipher is by no means
              trivial, even if the cipher is eventually shown to be weak.
              Most people don't have the inclination to try to break a
              cipher unless there's some incentive, such as fame or money
           - And new ciphers are notoriously hard to design. Experts are
              the best folks to do this. With all the stuff waiting to be
              done (described here), working on a new cipher is probably
              the least effective thing an amateur can do. (If you are
              not an amateur, and have broken other people's ciphers
              before, then you know who you are, and these comments don't
              apply. But I'll guess that fewer than a handful of folks on
              this list have the necessary background to do cipher
           - There are a vast number of ciphers and systems, nearly all
              of no lasting significance. Untested, undocumented, unused-
              -and probably unworthy of any real attention. Don't add to
              the noise.
   2.4.20. Are all the Cypherpunks libertarians?
   2.4.21. "What can we do?"
           - Deploy strong crypto, to ensure the genie cannot be put in
              the bottle
           - Educate, lobby, discuss
           - Spread doubt, make government programs look
           - Sabotage, undermine, monkeywrench
           - Pursue other activities
   2.4.22. "Why is the list unmoderated? Why is there no filtering of
            disrupters like Detweiler?"
           - technology over law
           - each person makes their own choice
           - also, no time for moderation, and moderation is usually
           + anyone who wishes to have some views silenced, or some
              posters blocked, is advised to:
             - contract with someone to be their Personal Censor,
                passing on to them only approved material
             - subscribe to a filtering service, such as Ray and Harry
                are providing
   2.4.23. "What Can I Do?"
           - politics, spreading the word
           - writing code ("Cypherpunks write code")
   2.4.24. "Should I publicize my new crypto program?"
           - "I have designed a crypting program, that I think is
              unbreakable.  I challenge anyone who is interested to get
              in touch with me, and decrypt an encrypted massage."
               "With highest regards,
                Babak   Sehari." [Babak Sehari, sci.crypt, 6-19-94]
   2.4.25. "Ask Emily Post Crypt"
           + my variation on "Ask Emily Postnews"
             - for those that don't know, a scathing critique of
                clueless postings
           + "I just invented a new cipher. Here's a sample. Bet you
              can't break it!"
             - By all means post your encrypted junk. We who have
                nothing better to do with our time than respond will be
                more than happy to spend hours running your stuff through
                our codebreaking Crays!
             - Be sure to include a sample of encrypted text, to make
                yourself appear even more clueless.
           + "I have a cypher I just invented...where should I post it?"
             + "One of the very most basic errors of making ciphers is
                simply to add
               - layer upon layer of obfuscation and make a cipher which
                  is nice and
               - "complex".  Read Knuth on making random number
                  generators for the
               - folly in this kind of approach.  " <Eric Hughes, 4-17-
                  94, Cypherpunks>
             + "Ciphers carry the presumption of guilt, not innocence.
               - designed by amateurs invariably fail under scrutiny by
                  experts.  This
               - sociological fact (well borne out) is where the
                  presumption of
               - insecurity arises.  This is not ignorance, to assume
                  that this will
               - change.  The burden of proof is on the claimer of
                  security, not upon
               - the codebreaker.  <Eric Hughes, 4-17-94, Cypherpunks>
           + "I've just gotten very upset at something--should I vent my
              anger on the  mailing list?"
             - By all means! If you're fed up doing your taxes, or just
                read something in the newspaper that really angered you,
                definitely send an angry message out to the 700 or so
                readers and help make _them_ angry!
             - Find a bogus link to crypto or privacy issues to make it
                seem more relevant.
   2.4.26. "What are some main Cypherpunks projects?"
           + remailers
             + better remailers, more advanced features
               - digital postage
               - padding, batching/latency
               - agent features
             - more of them
             - offshore (10 sites in 5 countries, as a minimum)
           - tools, services
           - digital cash in better forms
   2.4.27. "What about sublists, to reduce the volume on the main list."
           - There are already half a dozen sub-lists, devoted to
              planning meetings, to building hardware, and to exploring
              DC-Nets. There's one for remailer operators, or there used
              to be. There are also lists devoted to similar topics as
              Cypherpunks, including Robin Hanson's "AltInst" list
              (Alternative Institutions), Nick Szabo's "libtech-l" list,
              the "IMP-Interest" (Internet Mercantile Protocols) list,
              and so on. Most are very low volume.
           + That few folks have heard of any of them, and that traffic
              volumes are extremely low, or zero, is not all that
              surprising, and matches experiences elsewhere. Several
             - Sublists are a bother to remember; most people forget
                they exist, and don't think to post to them. (This
                "forgetting" is one of the most interesting aspects of
                cyberspace; successful lists seem to be Schelling points
                that accrete even more members, while unsuccessful lists
                fade away into nothingness.)
             - There's a natural desire to see one's words in the larger
                of two forums, so people tend to post to the main list.
             - The sublists were sometimes formed in a burst of
                exuberance over some topic, which then faded.
             - Topics often span several subinterest areas, so posting
                to the main list is better than copying all the relevant
           - In any case, the Cypherpunks main list  is "it," for now,
              and has driven other lists effectively out of business. A
              kind of Gresham's Law.

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